Michigan Association of School Administrators

Service | Leadership | Collaboration | Excellence

Member Blogs

Blog Authors

David Britton, Godfrey-Lee
Scot Graden, Saline
Tony Habra, Paw Paw
Michele Lemire, Escanaba
Vickie Markavitch, Oakland
Steve Matthews, Novi
Mike Paskewicz, Northview
Dr. Jeanice Kerr Swift, Ann Arbor

MASA members: If you have a blog that you would like us to link please contact pmarrah@gomasa.org

Wishing You a Happy Thanksgiving

Written by Dr. Jeanice Kerr Swift on Nov 25, 2015

I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought;
and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.

- G.K. Chesterton


Hello Ann Arbor Public Schools Staff, Students, Parents, and Community,

Truly, we have so much for which to be grateful on this Thanksgiving week.

Thank you, Ann Arbor Public Schools teachers and staff, for your caring and impressive work each day over this fall, 2015. Your exemplary work is integral to the discovery, growth and high levels of success that our children experience at school and in their lives each day.

Thank you, AAPS parent community, for your engagement and support. Our District benefits immensely from your dedication to our students and schools and your commitment to public education serves as a rare gift for our children, our AAPS team, and our community.

In the Ann Arbor Public Schools, we are grateful for strong partnerships across students, staff, parents and community. Quality public schools are directly connected to positive, engaged, and caring communities, and the success of high-performing Ann Arbor Public Schools reflects the success of a vibrant Ann Arbor community.

We are grateful for the signs of organizational progress we continue to experience in the Ann Arbor Public Schools: fiscal outcomes have improved, student achievement remains strong, enrollment has increased, and new, innovative programs are on-track and moving forward. We remain committed to continuous improvement work across the AAPS organization.

Thank you, staff, parents, and community, for your support of our children, and of the Ann Arbor Public Schools.

I appreciate the opportunity to serve, and wish you and yours a safe, warm, and restful Thanksgiving holiday.


Jeanice K. Swift

Much More to Education Than Testing

Written by Tony Habra on Nov 24, 2015

There is so much more to education than testing.

This past week I was in Paw Paw Middle School. Middle school students are in a developmental stage that is similar to two year olds. I remember when my daughter was two and she started walking towards my compact disc collection (I would have said CD’s, but no one knows what those are anymore) with the intention of making piles after I had just organized them. I told her “no” and she stopped, looked me in the eye and then proceeded to pull out a couple and drop them to the floor. She was testing me, trying to determine the limits. Middle school students do the same thing.

They are at an age where they are starting to question everything they have been told. Do I really need to write down my assignments? What happens if I if I don’t do the work? If I do the work, why do I have to prove it to the teacher? As our teachers work to help the students learn about the curriculum they also have to teach them the answers to these questions. It’s the only way for students to be College, Career and Community Ready!

In Mrs. VanderMolen’s room I was impressed by the way she taught both English and organization to seventh graders. She told them what page they were on in the story they were reading and the objective they should be focusing on while they were reading. She made certain that every student was prepared to learn prior to the lesson beginning, even giving extra time so all could be caught up, but limiting that time so no one student could monopolize the learning time. In addition, every student had assigned parts they were to read, like actors reading lines, so that every student had to remain focused in case it was their turn. There was discussion and the highlighting of specific points of literature, but that was just a small part of what was happening in the classroom. The students were learning the skills of focus, presentation, organization and following directions. All of these are part of testing but none of them are on the test.

In Mr. Yzquierdo’s choir room the students were warming up. What impressed me about his method was the way he incorporated movement into the warm up. Hands would move up as notes went up and down as the notes came down. Tone, quality and rhythm followed right behind. There were a few students who followed along sluggishly at first, but as the tone improved and the sound filled the room it wasn’t long before everyone was participating. Choir, like any team activity, requires a commitment to the group over the individual. Sing too loudly and you can throw off the whole song. In today’s business world, working for the team is something every employer is seeking from new hires. This skill is being taught every day by Mr. Yzquierdo and others in our buildings. This is tested in the real world as determined by employers and who they hire, but it is not on the test.

I also spent some time in Ms. Wiltgen’s 6th grade English classroom. As I watched her wrap up her lesson she walked over to a large piece of chart paper broken into squares. These squares were made to resemble the student planners and Ms. Wiltgen was writing information in the squares. She was listing the objective of the lesson just learned, the expected notes, what homework was required and when it was due. She had the entire past week listed and every student was taking the time to copy the notes in their own planner. It was clear, concise and easy to understand keeping every student on track so they could be prepared for the upcoming test. Best of all, she was asking the students to tell her what the objectives were and what notes were needed and what they thought would be on test. The internet has put the world at our fingertips, but how often does a web search reveal more than what was being asked for? Being able to sift through information and find the important parts can actually be found on a test, but more importantly it is a life skill that helps us prioritize each and every day. That is the art of critical thinking and one of the second set of C’s in 3C2. (College, Career and Community Ready! through Creativity, Critical thought and the Courage to take risks.)

Finally, I stopped in Mr. Baleja’s room as a student was asking for help. The student was saying that he didn’t understand the homework and that it was too confusing. He wanted Mr. Baleja to explain it to him again. Mr. Baleja asked what part he didn’t understand and the student responded with “all of it.” Mr. Baleja considered that a moment and then asked if the student had read through the assignment yet and the student just stared at him. Mr. Baleja nodded in understanding and said “Not starting a project is not the same as not understanding it. Do as much as you can and then come back to me with the parts you need help with.” As a student approaches challenges, it’s easy for them to become overwhelmed. Too much of anything can often lead to ignoring everything. Having the courage to move forward in the face of difficulty is another of the second set of C’s in 3C2. Having the courage to take a risk is never directly tested, but is the sign of a true learner and a skill that separates Paw students from the rest.

Testing has a place in education. We must test, not to rank students or teachers or schools against each other, but to determine what is known and what still needs to be known. Many of the most important skills taught in school are never directly tested for, such as the ones I outlined for you here. Testing is a byproduct of education, not the reason for it. Paw is blessed with teachers who understand that fact and work to make all students College, Career and Community Ready! through Creativity, Critical thought and the Courage to take risks. 3C2.


Successful $67.5M Bond Proposal Represents a Victory in Community Engagement

Written by Scot Graden on Nov 24, 2015

Bonds proposals are tricky business.

When Saline Area Schools sought community support for our $67.5 million bond measure earlier this year, a few thousand votes stood between needed safety & security improvements, infrastructure updates, and a potentially transformative school reform package.

Our facilities were aging and in need of a serious overhaul. If passed, the sweeping bond measure would give our staff the time—and the resources—to upgrade aging buildings, create safer, more engaging learning environments and significantly limit maintenance and upkeep costs, among other benefits.

A quick tour of the district and the need was glaring. Though it hardly mattered. There was no guarantee the bond would pass. The district had lost two separate bond measures.

This year, everything changed. An improved economy, coupled with a renewed commitment to engaging community members—including parents and other taxpayers—paved the way to a historic victory.

Rather than ask the community to blindly support our latest bond measure, the district engaged the community.  We launched Let’s Talk!, an online communications platform that allows parents and other community members to engage in two-way conversations with district decision makers. The technology, is accessible through a tab on our district website. It demonstrates our commitment to listening and responding to community concerns and provides an always-on platform for addressing misinformation on social media and in the press.

When a group of community members wanted to know what kinds of school busses the district intended to purchase with taxpayer dollars, we were able to answer them—fast. Let’s Talk! existence helped allay stakeholders’ concerns, and demonstrated our commitment to transparency with voters. The result: more support, and deeper understanding of the issues, come decision time.

Collectively, our community understood that the bond was critical to the district’s long-term plans. When the bond passed, the change in sentiment was palpable. Our staff felt supported by our community. Our community, in turn, felt empowered by our staff. Trust in our school system was restored.

Now, as we head into the holiday season and the New Year, teachers, staff and community members can move forward together, bonded by a single mission: to improve the school experience for years to come.

I want to personally thank every staff member and community member who contributed to this important victory. Your undying commitment has forever shaped a brighter future for our schools—and, more important, for our students.

Thank you!

Preparing for That First "Real Job!"

Written by Michele Lemire on Nov 23, 2015
My first "real job" beyond babysitting was working at Dairy Treat in Menominee, Michigan. Mr. and Mrs. Pinterelli owned the place, and had high expectations for their workers. Here are some of the lessons I learned:

1) Weigh the soft serve ice cream cones every time to make sure a "small" is 3 ounces, a medium, 5 ounces, and a large 7 ounces. (Customers want to know what to expect when they purchase a certain size.)
2) Wear a clean white shirt/uniform every day, and make sure your hair is tied up. (If we weren't dressed appropriately, we'd be sent home).
3) Count out change appropriately (this was hard at first!)
4) When there are no customers, clean all the stainless steel metal cabinetry on day, the "woodwork" another day, and the "painted surfaces" another day. (We learned that everyone on staff is responsible for how Dairy Treat looked to our customers.)
5) After listening to someone's order, ask: "Would you like anything else?" NOT: "Is that it?"  and always say "Thank you."
6) Be on time, and always look to see if your co-workers need a hand. (Be respectful of the owners and of other co-workers.)

These seem like simple things, but when I was a teenager, I needed direction in order to be the kind of employee the Pinterelli's wanted and needed for their business. Some of the expectations didn't come naturally, and I needed coaching to do things the correct way.

Our students come from a variety of homes and have their own personal experiences. We cannot assume that they are perfectly ready to join the workforce.  Students at the Escanaba Student Success Center are fortunate that staff members are providing a multitude of career awareness experiences, and helping them develop the skills to be a good worker. Today, I noticed a bulletin board in the hallway where the staff members are posting a variety of open positions for students to review. I am pleased that our staff members are helping students get their "first real job" as well as helping to provide job shadowing experiences!

Wonderful Resource!

Written by Michele Lemire on Nov 22, 2015
Dr. Gina Pepin is one of our Title I teachers in our district and works at Lemmer Elementary School. She is a person who appears to always be on the hunt for research, as well as to identify methods to increase student achievement, particularly in reading. Today she shared the Title I Blog from Lemmer, and I must say, it is excellent. Teachers and parents will be able to gather some great information from this resource. I encourage you to check it out!

Click HERE!